Congress Gives Final Approval To Homeland Security Spending Bill

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and Senator Paul Sarbanes announced that both the House and the Senate have given final approval and sent to President Bush for his signature the 2006 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The bill includes key funding for Maryland's security and addresses several high priority items, including grants for firefighters, first responders and port security, and a major project for the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay.

"As a nation fighting a war on terrorism, we need to be safer, stronger and smarter so that we are able to better detect, prevent and respond to acts of terrorism," said Senator Mikulski. "This legislation gets us one step closer to meeting those goals by standing up for our first responders and making sure that if terror strikes, measures are in place to protect and save lives. I will keep fighting to make sure that resources are in the federal checkbook for our homeland security."

"In Maryland and across the nation, state, local and regional authorities continue to struggle to make their communities safer from potential terrorist activities," said Senator Sarbanes. "In many cases, these communities have taken exhaustive measures to identify their areas of greatest vulnerability, and have made significant advances in enhancing their own preparedness and response capabilities - at considerable cost. The federal government must step up and help our states and localities in protecting our domestic homeland and this funding measure helps local communities to meet those needs."

Firefighters Grants

The federal spending bill includes $545 million in federal funding for our nation's firefighters through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. This competitive program awards one-year grants directly to fire departments nationwide. Fire departments can apply for federal assistance for training, equipment, staffing, fire education and awareness programs or firefighting vehicles. While this is $45 million more than the President requested, it still falls $105 million short of last year's funding level. This year, approximately 20,400 departments nationwide applied for funding, requesting more than $2.6 billion in total.

The bill also includes $110 million for the SAFER program, which funds the hiring of additional firefighters around the country through a competitive grant process. This amount is a $45 increase over last year's funding level, which was the program's first year. The Administration requested no funding for SAFER in both its FY05 and FY06 budget request.

In 2004, Senator Mikulski introduced an amendment to the Homeland Security spending bill that would have increased federal funding for the Fire Grant Program by $150 million, funding it at its authorized level of $900 million. Senator Mikulski's amendment failed along a party-line vote of 48-49.

Port Security Grants

The bill includes $175 million for the Port Security Grant program, a $25 million increase over last year. These funds are granted to localities to finance security enhancements at critical national seaports. Over the years, Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes strongly advocated increased funding for the Port of Baltimore. Maryland has received $14.5 million since its creation in 2002.

"I've been fighting to upgrade our Port for more than 20 years," said Senator Mikulski. "For years, my challenge was fixing the twists and turns in our channels that were a safety risk. Today it's threats that were unthinkable years ago. Keeping our Port and our people safe from terrorism is one of my top priorities."

"While we have funneled massive amounts of money into airport security, our ports continue to pose a threat to potential terrorist activities," said Senator Sarbanes. "These funds will help protect the Port of Baltimore and its surrounding neighborhoods as we seek to combat terror on land, sea and in the air."

First Responder Grants

The Homeland Security Appropriations bill includes $1.3 billion in First Responder grants and funding for states, urban areas and regions. First responders use the grants for equipment training, exercises and planning costs. In 2005, the National Capital Region was awarded almost $30 million and Baltimore was awarded almost $16 million through this program.

"In my own hometown of Baltimore, every time we go to 'Code Orange' we have to spend an additional $500,000 a week in overtime costs," said Senator Mikulski. "We need to protect the protectors who guard the homeland and the first place to do it is in the federal checkbook."

"Throughout the war on terrorism our local first responders have been working 24/7 to keep our citizenry safe," said Senator Sarbanes. "This new infusion of funding that is being made available to our localities from the federal government in this bill will help them recover some of these significant costs, as well as purchase new equipment and plan for the unfortunate potential of future terrorist attacks. Our region is highly vulnerable and our first responders have worked diligently to keep us safe. I commend them for their untiring efforts."

Coast Guard Yard

The appropriations bill includes funding for a $25 million project to be completed at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland. This project will extend service life and increase mission performance for the Coast Guard's aging fleet of Medium Endurance Cutters, and will ensure the survivability of the Yard for at least the next 7-10 years. The bill also includes language that recognizes the Yard as a critical component of the Coast Guard's core logistics capability that directly supports fleet readiness.

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